Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Writing reports: the culture of compulsory euphemism

From the Scotsman:
"(W)e live in litigious times. Teachers have to watch what they say and be careful what they write. If the parents think "truculent" untrue and "tantrums" an exaggeration, it can be their word against that of the school. Short of producing CCTV footage and calling Dr Tanya Byron as an expert witness, evidence can be hard to come by.

That is why the compiling of banks of suitable euphemisms is almost a cottage industry. When the 5-14 Scheme was introduced, this was an informal and covert activity. Now schools are up front about it, at least within the confines of the workplace. Staff can access the approved list of appropriate phrases.
This is true - I was actually given one of these in a Lanarkshire school, believe it or not. Although I'm not sure if the "litigious times" we live in is a satisfactory explanation (has anyone actually been sued for writing a bad report?) - more the fear of litigation, I reckon.

The thing is, these banal, euphemistic comments - pressed on the grounds of "positive re-enforcement" - are incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't learned "teacher-speak". I mean, are they aware that "must realise the importance of homework" actually means he/she never does any? Or that "must employ a more focused approach" means they never shut up and never produce any work that a well-trained chimp couldn't better? Or that "must realise the importance of maintaining good relations with his/her classmates" means, "your child is a sociopath"? I doubt it.

Fortunately, under the protective shield of my head of department, I don't have to do this crap and can say pretty much what I want, provided it isn't too outrageous. (Everyone, including the HT, is scared of him and he is wonderfully contemptuous of all things that are pants and PC in education). My favourite, which I stole from somewhere, was "Pupil X sets for himself low standards, which he consistently fails to achieve".

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